March 27, 2020 / 9:31 AM / 6 days ago

Indian LGBT+ group launches appeal for sex workers in coronavirus lockdown

(This March 26 story corrects charity name in fifth paragraph to Citizens for Justice and Peace, from Centre for Justice and Peace)

By Roli Srivastava

MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An LGBT+ rights group launched a fundraising appeal on Thursday for Mumbai sex workers whose income has been hit by coronavirus, saying it wanted to help other Indians who faced prejudice.

The Jimme Foundation stepped in after a distress call from a charity helping sex workers in the western Indian city, many of them single mothers struggling to feed their children since the world’s second most populous country went into lockdown.

“As a part of a community that has faced social ostracism, the onus is on us that we stand up with others who also are at the receiving end of prejudice,” said Harish Iyer, founder of the Jimme Foundation.

Iyer, a popular LGBT+ rights campaigner, said the group had identified nearly 200 families in need of help and was seeking funds to provide sex workers with essentials such as rice, wheat flour, oil and soap.

The appeal launched with the charity Citizens for Justice and Peace is among the first such drives for sex workers in Mumbai- the main destination in India for sex trafficking victims, according to campaigners.

The alert was raised by Kranti, a charity that works with children of sex workers in Mumbai, whose co-founder Bani Das welcomed the move.

“For every one person who knows me, there are three who know Harish (Iyer). His popularity will help,” Das told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a nationwide lockdown this week that will go on until April 14 and has raised fears for the hundreds of millions of Indians who rely on a daily wage and will not earn if they cannot go to work.

But even before that, Mumbai had largely shut down with offices closed and people asked not to go out.

Sex workers in other countries have also struggled with measures to stop the spread of the virus.

On Monday, women working in one of the world’s largest brothels in Bangladesh appealed for emergency funding after an official ban on customers.

“Sex workers survive on daily income from customers,” said Das. “They don’t have masks, hand sanitizers, even sanitary pads. They are in a miserable state.”

Reporting by Roli Srivastava @Rolionaroll; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org

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